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Hero of Tunisia's 2011 revolution Lina Ben Mhenni dies at 36

Nobel Peace Prize nominee was an internationally recognised human rights activist who documented abuses under Ben Ali
Activist and blogger Lina Ben Mhenni documented police violence during the 2011 revolution (AFP)

Tributes are pouring in after prominent Tunisian human rights activist and blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, one of the heroes of the 2011 revolution, died in the early hours of Monday from a chronic illness.

The 36-year-old was an English teacher at the University of Tunis. Her father and fellow activist, Sadok Ben Mhenni, was a political prisoner under Habib Bourguiba and one of the founders of the Tunisian branch of rights group Amnesty International.

Her final blog post was published on Sunday morning, in which she took aim at a spat-turned-fracas between MPs in parliament, asking Tunisians to remember their political past and learn from it.

A cyber-dissident, Ben Mhenni became well known for her “A Tunisian Girl" blog and using her real name at great personal risk, documenting human rights abuses under Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In response, Ben Ali's government banned her blog in 2007.

But in the 2011 uprising that toppled the longtime autocrat, Ben Mhenni began blogging once again, becoming a vital source of information through her documentation in English, French and Arabic of the violent crackdown on protesters by police, particularly in Sidi Bouzid, Regueb and Kasserine. 

Her blog soon gained international recognition. In 2011, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and received the Best Blog Award at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Germany's Bonn.

“I had to ensure that the voices of these people and their families be heard so that they hadn’t died in vain,” she said speaking at the time.

In 2013, following the assassinations of leftist politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, she was informed by authorities of being “number 1 on a kill list” drawn up by hardline groups.

Despite her ailing health and being in need of a kidney transplant, in recent years Ben Mhenni participated in many panels and cultural events, most recently at the Arab Women Literature Festival, and she campaigned for Tunisia’s youth and a reading initiative in Tunisian prisons.

Tunisia's culture ministry expressed “great sorrow” at Ben Mhenni’s death.